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If it had been easy, he wouldn’t have called it a challenge.

The 81-day Athlete Training Centre Challenge is all but over. It was harder than it looked, but easier than some thought. I’ll let that contradiction ricochet around your mind for a while.

The brain child of Athlete Training Centre boss trainer Richard Clark, the challenge was meant to push us physically, challenge us mentally (in terms of exceeding our own perceptions of our boundaries) and stimulate us intellectually to fully understand the implications of our food choices on ourselves and the environment.

That’s my interpretation. Others may have heard other messages. The rules: no alcohol. No dairy. Meat only four times a week. A minimum of five one-hour workouts per week. Just do it. And have fun. No bitching.

The physical challenge seemed a success for many of us “adult athletes.” I lost more than a dozen pounds, I lift more weight and I’m stronger, I hit new lows in body fat readings, improved my cardio to the extent that I could actually run six kilometres, and made a lot of the new clothes I bought last fall feel a little baggy.

Some — maybe, much — of what is written here today is recycled news for regular readers. So be it.

My enthusiasm for the workouts has not waned and I get enough feedback from others that I know I add something to the ATC stew. I’m not the fittest. Others work harder. But what I get from the place matters to me.

A much, much younger guy remarked to me that his father is about my age and couldn’t do a third of what I do. He smiled at me one morning, as sweat dripped off both our noses. He gave me a fist bump and said “don’t ever stop.” I liked that.

The mom of a kid I used to coach in minor hockey is a newcomer to ATC and she has made amazing, noticeable improvement. Another woman, who I always thought was reasonably fit, went from a size 10 to a size 2 since Jan. 11 when we started. She looks amazing and she is really proud of it, and should be.

I find motivation in the work ethic of people like them and my friends Coach Dave, Mike, Kurt, Maggie and others. They all fall into the category of people who just keep showing up and work hard. If I want to keep up, I have to work hard too. And I really want to keep up.

There were probably close to 60 of us doing this and I’d guess most achieved some physical improvement. Certainly the people I see every day at 6a worked hard. As with anything, you get out what you’re willing to put in, both at the gym and at the dinner table.

Okay, on to the mental challenge. A year ago I literally could not run. Not even to the mailbox and back. I was overweight, overstressed, often during the day ate poorly, and in the evening reached too easily for a beer after work. Long before the ATC challenge, I started addressing those issues.

But the challenge got me thinking differently about what is possible and when one of the women I train with asked me to join a 6k fundraising fun run, I said I would. And then I worried for a month that I would embarrass and hurt myself. The challenge helped me push that thinking aside, confront what I thought was a limitation (bad knees, too heavy, poor cardio, not strong enough) and just shut up and do it.

My knees didn’t hurt much. I was 70 pounds lighter than I was a year ago. My cardio was more than fine. And all those 6a sessions made the legs and core muscles holding up my lighter frame much, much stronger. The run was no problem.

The intellectual stimulation is the final, and arguably largest, part of the challenge. I’m smart and well read and I learned a lot about the impact of big agriculture on the environment. Stated simply, beef ranching is environmentally destructive and the planet cannot sustain it. Dairy production is not much better. Add in poultry production and read a bit about the inhumane treatment of animals, and it gives you pause to think about the true cost of eating meat.

Add to all of that that eating a plant-based diet is just better for you and you start to connect the dots.

I am never going to be a vegan — probably — but I have no doubt I will continue to eat less meat and I’ll talk to my kids about the issues, too. They can make their own choices, but they can’t stop me from adding a little information. And evidence is, they listen.

Friday night a bunch of people from the gym are going out to celebrate the end of the challenge, because 81 days is a long time. We will find out then, I presume, which team won (and endure judgmental glances about our menu selections.)

So, two points. My older son is ridiculously fit and always has been. The younger one is now getting into it. He’s tall and lean and handsome but wants to be really fit. Well, my boss has a favourite saying — a steady rain sinks in.

There are lots of reasons Chris wants to be fitter, bigger, stronger. I know I’ve led by example, underlining to me that innovations in parenting and self improvement are important and never too late.

Second, yesterday I could have gone out at lunch and had anything I wanted, with the challenge done. I had a veggie wrap on whole wheat pita bread, which I had never eaten before Jan. 11. Yesterday I was craving one.

Me. Of all people. I asked for extra falafel.

Go figure.

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